Story (c) 2000-2003 by Hikaru Katayamma/Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. The character Sheila Vixen (c) Eric W Schwartz. Throckmorton P Ruddygore, Poqua, Lakash (c) Jack L Chalker. Jack (c) David Hopkins.Mary the Mouse © Mary Minch. All other characters are (c) Hikaru Katayamma.  This story contains adult situations and language. By reading it the viewer agrees not to hold this or any other person responsible for any content they may find objectionable. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Identity Crisis
Chapter 37

Let's play the blame game! Come on! It's easy and it's fun!

Hecate awoke to discover utter darkness. A momentary panic ran down her spine as the thought that she might be blind hit her, but faded as she shifted her sight into the magic bands, revealing the small, windowless room. She started to sit up, but immediately dropped back down to the floor, clutching at her side. Wincing, the wounded woman gently probed her ribs, examining the extent of the damage while trying to remember what had happened. Her mind wandered back to the warehouse and the explosion that had buried her in the rubble. She remembered the man lifting the roof off of her and her anger at his careless actions and her blind rage that drove her to attack him. "What the hell?" she muttered to herself while shaking her head as if to clarify the memories. Concentrating on the memories, she tried to recall the chain of thought that had caused such intense anger, and failed. It was as if she were remembering a dream, though she knew it have been real.

Cautiously she sat up while trying to avoid putting any strain on her injured side and summoned a ball of light. Now able to see, she looked down, surprised at the fact that she still wore the silk jacket, though most of the left front and side was missing, an area that suspiciously matched the wound in her side. Her magical sight showed that although the armor was in no danger of degrading further, the spells interwoven into it were quite inert, surprising her. A scowl crossed her face as a rather unpleasant thought made its way into her head. Looking around, she saw Arden sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, asleep. On the mattress in the corner she saw that Sheila was also unconscious and, for some reason, naked. A brief visual search showed the remainder of her armor shriveled up on the bed, its fabric rapidly being consumed by some strange, black spell that ravenously ate away at the edges.

With a flick of her wrist, she sent the small ball of light flying into the air. At the top of its ark, it slowed to a complete stop, hovering as if suspended by a string from the room. Hecate took a deep breath and let it out slowly, wincing at the pain before she cautiously rolled over onto her knees and then stood up. Flexing her right shoulder back, she slipped her right arm out of the jackets sleeve, freeing her wings and allowing her to let the jacket slip of her left arm without straining her ribs too bad. She tossed the useless jacket in the corner and soon followed it with the silk pants she wore, happy to get out of the unfamiliar clothing. Using her good hand, she pulled and adjusted the body stocking that she wore, trying to get it comfortable, but with a good portion of the left side missing, it refused to sit right. She let out a sigh as she examined the damage again. She'd paid a small fortune for the hand crafted material and relied on its natural magical properties to protect her from minor magic.

Shuffling over to where Sheila lay, she kicked the vixen's leg. "You alive down there?" she prodded, kicking the female again.

Sheila mumbled and grunted unintelligibly before squinting up at the demonic imir. "What the hell are you kicking me for?" The vixen blinked and looked around for a moment, her brows furrowed in confusion. "And what the hell happened in here?"

"I was just about to ask you the same thing," Hecate replied, summoning a chair apparently out of empty air before sitting on it. "This place looks like there was a bar fight. Any clue what happened?" With a grunt of exertion, Sheila pushed herself upright and then blinked a couple of times as she took a deep breath. "You all right?" the ebony woman asked, leaning towards the vixen.

"Yah," the pregnant vixen replied with a curt nod, "I just felt a little light headed there for a second." Again she shook her head as if to clear it then looked back up at Hecate.

Hecate nodded and leaned back in the chair. "So. Tell me what you remember before you blacked out."

"Well," Sheila started, shifting herself on the mattress to get more comfortable, "I remember lying in the bed, just about asleep when I heard what sounded like lightning." She looked down towards the floor, her eyes focusing on something unseen beyond it. "It startled the hell out of me. When I heard it again, I remember sitting up and trying to figure out what and where it was coming from. Then I heard a loud explosion followed by stuff falling on the roof." She looked back up at Hecate, chewing her lip in thought. "The last thing I remember was finding the door locked and feeling panicked because I couldn't get out." Shrugging her arms, she glanced around the room before looking back at the other woman. "That's about all I remember. The rest is just a big blur." She glanced over at Arden and frowned as she noticed the large scar that ran up and across his face. "Is he all right?"

"He's alive, if that's what you're asking." Frowning, the imir studied the sleeping man for a moment. "I don't think we'll be waking him up any time soon either."

Sheila cocked an ear towards Arden, as she looked him over. "Why not?"

"Because he's hibernating right now," the ebony woman replied with a long sigh. "At least that's the best way to describe it. From the looks of him, I'll bet he's been eating gold like it's going out of style, hasn't he?"

Sheila's confusion shifted over to Hecate as she contemplated the answer. "Yah. As a matter of fact he has. Why?"

Hecate nodded. "Dragons need gold. They don't just hoard it out of greed. They need to eat it to stay healthy. That body was locked in stone for a very long time and although time was slowed, it wasn't stopped. By now he's probably more than just a little short on reserves." Tisking, she shook her head, frowning as she watched the unconscious form. "You probably aren't aware of it, but he's been running on the ragged edge of complete exhaustion. The idiot's been tossing around mana like a spendthrift so that anyone watching would think they're up against someone in a hell of a lot better shape than he is." She looked back at the vixen and pursed her lips. "That's not the worst part. We're stuck in here until he does wake up."

Sheila flopped backwards onto the mattress with her arms flayed out to the sides. "Great. How long will that take?"

"If were lucky?" Hecate waited for the vixen to lift her head and look back over at her, "Only five or six weeks, though I've heard of dragons hibernating for as long as a decade after enduring extreme stress like our boy here has."

"WHAT?" Sheila rocked her body side to side as she used her arms to lever herself upright again. "Five or six weeks? Why can't we leave now?"

"Because your boyfriend locked us into this room, that's why." Standing, Hecate waved her arm around the room. "Every surface is covered with protective wards that I can't even begin to unravel, locking us in and everything else out." She limped over to the door and studied it for a second before continuing. "Only thing I'm sure of is that there are some strands that look like they'd unravel the spell if you pull on them, but only an idiot would fall for an obvious trap like that." Turning, she leaned heavily backwards against the door and banged the back of her head on the wood in frustration. "I knew I should have just killed him and dragged your ass to Ruddygore when I had the chance."

"Six weeks?" Sheila sobbed as she held her hands to either side of her head as if to keep it from splitting apart. "How the fuck are we supposed to survive locked in this fucking closet for six fucking weeks!" Reaching out past the end of the mattress, she picked up a piece of wood and threw it at Arden, missing him with plenty of room. "This just isn't happening!" she screamed at the top of her voice. "Why are you doing this to me!" she shouted towards the roof, her hands balled in anger on the mattress. "Why?"

The vixen's claws dug into the mattress, ripping it apart as she pulled fabric and feathers free to fling them in whatever random direction suited her whim. "Its not fair! It's not fair," she sobbed, falling over to the side and curling up into a ball as well as she could. "I wish I was back home again." Her eyes flew open in panic as she ripped at the amulet around her neck. "NO!" Whipping the chain over her head, she tried to remove the amulet only to have the chain catch on her hair. Screaming unintelligibly, she fought to free the chain from her hair by simply yanking on it, pulling a small clump of hair from her head before Hecate could take two steps from the door. Her arms strengthened by the adrenaline coursing through her veins, she threw the amulet hard enough for it to ricochet off of the far wooden wall before coming to rest next to her on the shredded mattress.

"What the hell was that all about?" Hecate demanded, trying to keep an eye on both the vixen and the amulet as she moved towards the bed.

"Nothing--nothing happened," Sheila muttered in shock. "Nothing happened."

The ebony female's gaze continued to bounce between the amulet and the vixen's eyes as if following some invisible volleyball match. "What something supposed to happen?"

Sheila reached out and picked up the amulet, noticing for the first time that the metal was cold. "It's the Amulet of Lakesh. It's supposed to answer a wish by transporting whoever makes the wish to an alternate reality where that wish can come true."

"Amulet of Lakesh, eh?" Hecate parroted with a slight smile. "I've heard of that. Pretty powerful mojo in it to be able to cross the barriers like that. So why didn't it work?"

"I don't know. It's odd." Flipping the amulet over, she studied both sides closely, running the tip of one clawed finger over the intricate design. The expression on the vixens face changed from confusion to realization and finally to anger. "Lakash," She venomously spat, her head snapping around towards her companion. "He's fucking with us. First he does something with the armor that screws with us and now he's screwed with the amulet." Snarling, she again threw the amulet across the room, this time to have it come to rest in the shadows of the corner. "If I ever get my hands on him…"

"You'll what?" The deep, resonant, cultured voice of a man asked from the shadowy corner.

Hecate bolted to her feet, wincing at the pain in her side as she summoned a blade and faced the voice. "Who's there?" She demanded, trying to peer into the shadows.

"That's no way to treat an amulet, you know," The voice continued, ignoring Hecate and her demands. From out of the shadows a medium built man wearing a three piece, pin stripped suit complete with hat and cane. He looked the model of a 1920's gangster right down to the white carnation in the buttonhole. Piercing blue eyes looked out over a pair of Ben Franklin glasses resting on a small Roman nose. His mustache looked like it had been drawn on with a pencil, the two thin lines angling out from under the nose were perfectly manicured. He flashed them a smile showing off perfect, pearly white teeth as he strutted over towards them, his cane tapping on the floor. The amulet twirled about on the end of the chain he held in his left hand. "You should be more careful how you treat such items of power. You never know who might take offense to the abuse."

Hecate studied the man for a moment before dropping her guard. "Lakash?" Straightening up, she allowed the summoned sword to vanish as she moved to sit down in the chair. "How the hell did you get in here?"

"Simple. She summoned me." Casually he walked over to the bed and held the amulet out to the vixen. "Here, you might need this." He stood there for the better part of a minute before simply giving a shrug then tossing the amulet on the bed. Taking a step back he summoned a chair and sat down, crossing his legs. "Now, what was this you were saying about if you ever got your hands on me?"

"What's your game?" Sheila growled, glaring at the man. "First the armor tries to kill us and then the amulet doesn't work. Just what the hell are you trying to pull?"

"Oh no," Lakash chuckled, shaking a finger at the vixen. "Don't try to blame this on me. You're responsible for both of those artifacts malfunctioning."

"Bullshit," Sheila spat back at the man. "How could I have screwed them up?"

"Simple. The amulet was altered because of your first wish." Smiling, he removed his hat and held it in his hands, slowly rotating as he ran his fingers around the rim. "After you screwed things up with that idiotic wish in the studio, I was forced to alter the amulet's function so that I personally had handle the wish rather than let its inherent powers do it just in case you did something stupid again, like, say, wishing you were home?"

Sheila crossed her arms and snarled at the man. "Fine. Blame that one on me if you want. That doesn't explain why that armor went berserk. Or are you going to try and convince me I broke it?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Lakash tossed the hat aside, uncrossed his legs and leaned forward as Sheila rolled her eyes in response to his answer. "Tell me. Do you know what made Arden the perfect choice for this little quest? Hmmm?"

"No," the vixen muttered as she crossed her arms over her swollen womb, hugging herself.

"Simple." Holding up his hand, he raised a single finger. "Loyalty and his sense of personal honor. Once he's given his loyalty to someone, it's absolutely complete. Unless that person betrays him in such a way that he can't forgive them, they'll retain that loyalty."

Sheila gave a derisive snort. "And what's that got to do with me breaking the armor."

"When I created that armor, it was designed to bond with his spirit, a bond that goes far beyond anything you can imagine." Leaning further forward so as to rest his elbows on his knees, he frowned and glared at the vixen. "Thanks to you, when it was bonded to him, he happened to be in your body. Although it did its best to protect him, he still took a fatal wound. When you made the wish that brought you to Husquhar, your soul returned to your body, confusing the armor."

"Oh. Great," Sheila flippantly laughed. "Blame me because your armor couldn't handle reality. Well I have a reality check for you mist…"

"HONOR!" Lakash shouted, coming out of the chair to tower over the now cowering vixen. A tangible aura surrounded him that struck terror in the heart of the vixen. Even Hecate found herself paralyzed with fear at the elemental force that was being exuded by the fallen angel. "Something you have no personal experience with. You, who betrayed his trust in your own world. You who betrayed his trust when he was in your body, even after you begged him to take you back. You who betrayed him and others in this world as well. Your actions are to blame." The outburst over, Lakash regained his composure, stood up and straightened his suit before returning to his chair where he again sat, taking a casual posture.

Sheila swallowed several times before finding her voice to speak. "I-I don't understand. How did I betray him?"

Lakash let out a long sigh. "First, there was Bjorn, or don't you remember him? You know, the guy you ''rehearsed'' with after agreeing not to sleep with anyone outside of actual studio work?"

"Fuck you!" Sheila shouted angrily, her ears lay back as she snarled. "Don't you ever talk to me about Bjorn! If it hadn't been for you he'd still be alive."

"Don't blame me," Lakash replied, quietly. "Bjorn would have been dead soon there after anyway. If you don't believe me, I'll be glad to show you his obituary from a hundred different realities. The only difference is that he'd never have proposed to you." He waited as the words struck home. "But let's forget that. How about after you two swapped bodies."

One ear perked up as the vixen's brow furrowed in consternation. "What about it?"

"The first night you were in town?" the man prompted, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees. "You were busy chatting it up in the bar with the other boys and Arden was feeling a bit put out. She grabbed a bottle of booze, went up to her room and got stinking drunk. You remember that?"

"Yah, I remember that," Sheila muttered, frowning again. "So what?"

Lakash cocked an eyebrow at the female. "Do you remember what you did afterwards?" He watched as Sheila gave an uncomfortable shrug. "Let me prompt your memory. Do you remember sitting around the bar afterwards?" Sheila's eyes darted nervously between the man and Hecate in answer. "OK. How about the barmaid at the bar? You remember her?" Sheila shifted on the bed, looking distinctly nervous while not looking directly at either person. "Damn it, woman. Do I have to spell it out? You screwed the bar maid!"

Sheila's head snapped back up to look him in the eye. "So what? Christ, do you have any idea what her pheromones were doing to me? I needed some relief!"

"HAH!" The man leaned back momentarily as he let out a loud bark of laughter before leaning forward again. "Pheromones that you didn't warn her about, right? Pheromones due to her being in heat, something else you hid from her, right?" He glared down at the vixen, cowering her with his accusations. "Pheromones that ultimately got her raped, and ultimately pushed her to commit suicide!" Hecate and Lakash watched as Sheila only stared at the floor, her hands clasped in front of her, looking rather dejected. "That's not where it ended, either, is it?" he continued more gently, leaning back. "Once Arden had recovered you continued to screw damn near anything that walked on two legs, human or not, didn't you?" He slid off the chair to kneel in front of the vixen and lifted her muzzle, forcing her to look at him. "Nipping off for a quick knee trembler wasn't a big deal to you, was it? After all, that's what you'd been doing all your life, right? You'd gained acceptance using your body and now you were doing it again."

Sheila pulled her muzzle from his grasp and looked away. "It wasn't like that," she mumbled.

"It doesn't matter what it was like," the man replied standing up again. "Arden suspected, but didn't try to catch you. She wanted you to be happy. That's all she cared about. Of course that's all you cared about too, isn't it?"

Sheila shot the man a hard look as she sat back down. "You weren't there. You don't know what I was feeling. Besides, Arden told me that Lucifer had screwed with that love spell."

"Such a convenient excuse, now that you know about the spell." Lakash crossed his arms. "Bet he didn't mention to you that the changes didn't affect Arden's body, did he? They only affected your body." He smiled at the look of surprise on the vixen's face. Again he leaned forward, speaking gently. "We choose Arden because we needed someone who was focused, almost obsessive when it came to accomplishing a task. When he went to your world, we used you to create an emotional bond giving him a reason to live, to want to succeed and return. But you screwed it all up by holding out on him, keeping the amulet you knew he needed and lying about it. You betrayed him and in doing so, you set into motion a chain of events that have caused catastrophic problem after problem."

"You make it sound like it's all my fault," Sheila replied defensively. "He screwed up too. A lot!"

Lakash took another deep breath as he sat back and nodded, rubbing the bridge of his nose for a second. "Do you know what Arden's biggest problem is right now?" He paused to watch the vixen for a moment. "It's you." He continued before Sheila could respond. "You're a distraction. He's constantly more worried about you, what you're doing and that you're safe. He worries about it more than he does the completion of his quest." Again he leaned forwards to rest his arms on his knees, and then folded his hands. "While you were traveling with the Duke and Duchess, Arden entered the spirit realm to train with me. During that time, she was constantly distracted. Time after time I would catch her watching you and your sexual antics in the real world rather than studying." He paused to shake his head, looking away for a second before continuing. "Her training should have lasted decades in my realm, but she wouldn't stay. She rushed through things, trying to take shortcuts, learning only the most powerful and passing over the subtle in order to return to you as soon as possible. That's the reason I had to make the spirit of the armor so powerful and protective. When she'd mastered the basics, I knew I couldn't keep her any longer, so I gave her something I hoped would be his saving grace."

"Yah, right," Hecate chipped in. "It was so protective it tried to kill him."

"Insects should be seen and not heard," Lakash said, glaring at the Imir sideways. "Interrupt me again and I'll destroy you." He pursed his lips for a moment to regain control of his emotions before looking back to Sheila. "The unfortunate fact of the matter is that I initially tailored the armor for your body. Even though it would fit the body of anyone who put it on, it was initially crafted to fit you. When Arden died, your soul was put back in your body, which confused the armor. Same body, different soul."

"And that's my fault?" Sheila prompted, cocking an ear in his direction.

"No. That's my fault," He replied with a nod. "I never expected Arden to get killed. Then again, I hadn't expected Lucifer's direct intervention in that realm either. There were too many variables to predict that event. The problem is what you did afterwards."

Sheila rolled her eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation. "What did I do now?"

Lakash counted the items on his fingers as he talked, "You lied and cheated."

"Like I had any choice?" the vixen shot back indignantly. "Dropped in a strange world without any resources. What did you expect?"

"Without resources?" He let out another derisive bark of laughter. "You had the gold from the other world. You most certainly weren't short of resources once you found out that you were an exotic lay. And how about Ross?" He cocked an eyebrow at the vixen.

"Don't talk to me about that slime," she growled back.

"Why not?" the man taunted. "After all, you were cheating on him even though he'd professed his love, just like Arden." He waved off her objections with his hand. "Oh yah, I know what you're going to say. 'It was all an act. He was just lying to me. Using me.' Yah, yah, yah. You didn't know that at the time and you were screwing others when you didn't think he was looking." He leaned closer and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "Here's a secret for you, babe. Magicians can see through walls, and he saw it all."

Sheila grunted and glanced away. "So what's your point?"

"My point, you ignorant bitch," he yelled, causing her head to snap around, "is that you're wearing armor that was attuned to Arden's soul. Armor that valued honor and loyalty above all else. Values that you, by your very actions, showed nothing but contempt for." He continued to glare at the cowered vixen for a second before he stood up and walked to the corner where the armor lay. "It was forced to serve you, a mistress that neither knew nor cared about those values. All you know was that it was magic and would protect you." He turned back toward the bed and sighed. "Worse yet, when Arden took over the dragon, he left the armor on you, forcing it to endure you and your repulsive amoral conduct."

Closing his eyes, he let out a long sigh before returning to the chair. "Unfortunately, I never expected it to have to deal with you. The longer you wore it, the more disenfranchised it became about having you as a mistress. It's feelings of anger and dissatisfaction leaked through the spells that connected it to the wearer making you angry and dissatisfied with Arden being the target of both your displeasure. That in turn fed the armors anger as it was designed to read your feelings and act on them to protect you. Because Arden didn't take the armor from you when he became the dragon, the armor got even angrier."

Hecate snickered. "What was he supposed to do, wear it on his pinky?" The smile faded as she involuntarily flinched from his glare. "Sorry," she squeaked.

"Well?" Sheila prompted. "How would he wear it? It was a bit small for him."

Lakash turned back to the vixen and shook his head. "Like I said before. It was able to accommodate anyone who put it on, even a dragon as massive as Arden. It wouldn't look anything like it did before, but he'd have been able to put it on."

The vixen nodded. "That still doesn't explain why it tried to kill us."

"It was a side effect of his trying to copy the armor," Lakash explained, scratching his head. "That had to be the most brilliant spell idea I'd seen come from a mortal in a long time, as well as the stupidest. You already know the spell didn't copy the armor perfectly." He paused a couple of breaths to gaze sadly at the armor before looking back at Sheila. "Unfortunately, it also damaged some of the spells on the original armor that kept the spirit in check. Also, the duplication spell harmed the spirit in the process of trying to replicate it. It was a living being that was literally ripped apart and put back together. What remaining bits of loyalty to him which kept the spirit dedicated to him, were destroyed." He shrugged and glanced back over at the armor. "All that remained was the hatred that you had helped foster towards him."

"Oh my god," Sheila whispered in disbelief as she weighed the evidence. "Could I really have caused all this?"

"Bull shit," Hecate stated, standing up. "Don't let him fuck with your head. He just wants to shift the blame on to you."

"What did I tell you about opening you mouth" Lakash growled, taking a step towards the ebony female.

"Fuck you," the imir defiantly shot back. "I'm not going to sit here and listen to you lay down the guilt trip from hell on her just because you were too damned lazy to fix the problem."

"Are you forgetting that there are rules that even I have to abide by?" He snarled, his anger taking on an almost palpable aura around him.

"Yah, rules that you and the other celestials break whenever it's convenient," Hecate fired back. "You're in this realm so often I'm surprised that you don't have a revolving door somewhere to make it easier for you to cross over." She stepped forward, defiantly standing face to face with the man. "Or have you forgotten that I can sense whenever one of your kind enters and leaves this world. There's no reason you couldn't have repaired the armor or its spirit any time you wanted to."

"There are rules that go beyond Husquhar that I have to play by, and they prevented me from interfering without being asked to." He nodded to the unconscious Arden. "Unless I'm mistaken, he's gone out of his way to make sure he doesn't call on me for anything."

"That's your problem." Hecate turned her back on the man and walked over to the vixen. "Don't let this dipshit screw with your head."

Lakash took a threatening step forward. "You're just asking to experience oblivion, aren't you?"

Before Hecate could respond Sheila slammed her fist against the wall. "Would the two of you just shut the fuck up?" Rolling on to her knees, she leveraged herself up to a standing position with some help from Hecate once the ebony woman realized what she was doing. "I don't give a damn about who's responsible for what any more. All I care about is getting home and I can't do that as long as sleeping beauty there is out of it." She crossed her arms and glared at Lakash. "You're supposed to be his ally. What are you going to do about it?"

The dapper man's glance shifted between the two females as they watched him. "All right then," he conceded with a curt nod. Turning, he returned to the armor in the corner and picked it up. Folding it, he tucked it inside of his vest before walking over to Arden. Gently he laid a hand on Arden's head and concentrated until he heard a low groan from the man. He wiped his hand on his pants as he took a step back, as if to remove some unpleasant substance. "There. He'll wake up in a few minutes." He reached down to the bed and lifted up the amulet and turned to hang it on Sheila's head. "You must keep this safe. Without it, he won't be able to succeed in his mission." As she stepped back, he noticed Hecate staring at the amulet. "I wouldn't let Hecate close to it if I were you."

"Huh?" Sheila grunted, glancing between the two. "Why not?"

"Hecate's one goal in life is to escape this realm and travel all of creation." He frowned at the ebony female as he explained. "With the amulet, any wish she makes will remove her from this realm and its rules, freeing her. Now that she knows you have it, I'd be careful, if I were you, never to take it off." He reached out his hand and waved it over the amulet. "There we go, Dorothy. Only you can remove the amulet." He turned to give Hecate a sinister smile. "The Wicked Witch of the West can't touch it."

"Ha, ha," Hecate commented, crossing her arms. "I don't need that dumb amulet to break out of this joint. I'm already working on a way to bypass you and your dragons."

"You wouldn't happen to be referring to that boy you nailed up on the plateau recently, would you?" He smiled at her reaction. "The one your people lost track of after he burned down the fae tree?" He paused, enjoying her discomfort. "Hate to break it to you, but the world mage has him now. He's out of your reach." He chuckled to himself as if having heard a joke. "Then again, maybe I don't hate telling you all that much after all…" With that, he faded into the shadow, leaving only the echoes of his laughter behind.